CWC Celebrates 25 Years of Wireless Revolution

Wednesday, Jul 22, 2020

In 1995, the UC San Diego Center for Wireless Communications (CWC) was founded on the cusp of the wireless revolution. Twenty-five years later, wireless technology is still rapidly evolving and CWC is celebrating its 25th anniversary by continuing to envision a future of wireless possibilities.

When the CWC was established, the internet had only about 10,000 websites, and cell phones were used almost exclusively for talking. However, many forward-thinking researchers were already imagining a highly collaborative and connected world. Recognizing the potential and need for innovation, the CWC was established as a way to bring together university researchers with industry partners to advance wireless capabilities, and much of its success over the past 25 years has been based on its ability to work with its members to explore the applications of new technology while addressing the technical challenges of wireless advancements.

“At the time we were forming CWC, the technical areas that we were most interested in were communication networks, voice and image compression, communications electronics, and digital communications,” said Larry Milstein, the founding Director of CWC. “The two dominant broad goals for wireless communications technology were wide areas of coverage and quality of service that was comparable to that of wired-line communications.”

With the help of Irwin Jacobs, founder of Qualcomm, the Center was able to attract the interest of industry leaders with similar goals and was launched with seven core industry partners. Within 10 years, the number of industry partners had more than doubled, and the number of new communications faculty at UC San Diego had grown substantially as well, thanks, in part, to the solid reputation that the CWC had established for wireless communication research. As the leadership baton passed from Milstein to other directors, including Prof. Peter Asbeck, Prof. Ramesh Rao, and current Director Sujit Dey, the Center has been successful at continuing to grow its membership and its mission. Today, the center has developed a vibrant ecosystem of faculty, students and industry members, as well as community partners, including the cities of Carlsbad, Chula Vista and San Diego, who all play an important role in achieving the Center’s vision of being a multidisciplinary research and education environment for high-impact wireless communication projects. 

“We have multiple active projects with faculty from outside the school of engineering,” said Dey. “That is something I am proud about – our ability to engage with faculty from other divisions of the UCSD campus, the ability to engage in multidisciplinary projects, being able to partner with outside sources, and also being able to reach out to the community.” 

Through its collaborative efforts, the CWC has successfully kept pace with each advancing generation of telecommunication technology, and the center has become well-known for its research in wireless devices, networking and signal processing, and information theory. Eventually, as 4G technology enabled data-heavy usage of mobile devices, research began to shift beyond immediate technical challenges and focus on a bigger picture.

“When I became Director, I promised to try my best to facilitate and encourage the wireless research that CWC had become known for, but I also wanted to launch new areas of research that portend to the question of ‘how will this wireless revolution change our world?’” said Dey.

When Dey took over as Director in 2015, he started slowly building three new initiatives for the center focusing on connected health, smart transportation, and X-reality applications. The connected health initiative is bringing together renowned healthcare providers like Kaiser Permanent with healthcare technology providers like Samsung and Teradata to test ways to use sensing devices, health data analytics and wireless networks to revolutionize healthcare. Smart transportation projects are examining the merging of new kinds of sensors, like radars, lidars and cameras, collaborative data analytics and g hybrid cellular and mmWave-based edge computing and communications to create safer environments, and X-reality research hopes to combine virtual reality technology with sensors to bring enhanced experiences to the mobile world. All of these projects are taking wireless research beyond the physical layer of circuits and architectures and exploring the intersection of wireless technology, computing, and human interactions, which, according to Dey, is where the future lies.

“As wireless technologies keep improving, the real effectiveness of those Gs will be how data and human knowledge and understanding is going to interface with our networks and our sensors and computing devices,” said Dey. “There will be much more personal and enterprise application overlap. The network will be your personal aggregator of services.”

With 25 years of history under its belt, the CWC has become a good predictor of the future of wireless, and looking ahead is an integral part of regular events, such as the annual 5G and Beyond Forum, which has been held in May for the last three years.  However, one thing no one was able to predict was the current coronavirus crisis, which caused the Center to postpone its planned 25th Anniversary activities and move other events online. A research review workshop that was planned for November and typically has about 100 attendees who provide input on potential projects for the Center was successfully held in May 2021 instead as a virtual event.  A combined 25th Anniversary celebration and 5G and Beyond Forum event is being planned as a virtual event in early November. 

As the Center adjusts to the changes brought by the pandemic, its work has become even more important as has its consistency to produce well-trained students and high-quality research. 

“Our contributions and what we need to work on may be even more relevant and impactful now, as wireless technology innovations and wireless enabled solutions are being embraced even more and have become essential in so many aspects of our enterprise and social lives,” said Dey.  “There are vast needs ahead of us, but I am very excited and hopeful that we will continue to deliver.”